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Dog exercising with owner

A Comprehensive Guide to Dog Exercise

A Comprehensive Guide to Dog Exercise

While physical fitness is crucial to maintaining health, exercise is not only about maintaining fitness; it also plays a pivotal role in dogs' mental and emotional well-being. Regular exercise contributes to physical health by burning energy, controlling weight and reducing the risk of obesity, boosting metabolism, and supporting lean body mass. The maintenance of lean body mass is crucial to help mitigate painful, degenerative conditions like arthritis.

Aside from the physical benefits exercise also stimulates mental agility, challenging your dog's mind and keeping them sharp and engaged. It serves as a powerful tool to alleviate boredom and stress, helping to lower anxiety levels while simultaneously reducing the risk of destructive behaviors. Furthermore, exercise creates a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your dog, fostering a stronger bond and improving communication between you and your furry companion.
Exercise can take a variety of shapes and forms in dogs. The traditional concept of a dog 'walk' tends to be a rather structured march of some fixed time interval which can be intimidating for pet parents to try to maintain every single day. If you don't already, try breaking out of routine and mix up your exercise - it can be play sessions in the house, yard, or other environment; an unstructured 'sniffari' where your dog can use their nose to lead you both around for a little adventure; off-lead experiences (as appropriate in safe environments!); sports like agility, dock diving or flyball - your imagination is the only limit! Some dogs even really enjoy carpet mills or treadmills for physical energy expenditure (though adding some mental stimulation may also be required to address their whole needs). 

How Often Should I Exercise My Dog?

The amount of exercise your dog requires varies based on factors such as breed, age, size, health status and personality. Working-type breeds like Collies, Huskies, Shepherds and Labradors (to name only a few!) typically have high energy levels and require the highest physical and mental exercise. Where possible, try to provide daily exercise for your dog, though every day can be a little different and strict regimes are often not necessary. Splitting exercise into multiple sessions can help break up the day, prevent boredom, maintain learning capacity and focus, and avoid anticipatory behaviours such as door watching or barking and pestering at predictable times of day. Exercise sessions can be as short or as long and as intense or laid back as your schedule and your dog's needs dictate.
Roughly speaking, smaller dogs can typically tolerate a less active lifestyle better than larger dogs, but there are, of course, exceptions. For example, though a Shih Tzu or a Havanese may be able to tolerate a predominantly indoor lifestyle without intensive exercise, a similar-sized Terrier may exhibit frustration at the lack of stimulation. On the other end of the spectrum, some giant dogs also do ok with a more sedentary lifestyle, and in some cases, their bodies may not withstand rigorous exercise. For example, St. Bernard's although capable of extended periods of work (recall the breed originated in the alps searching and rescuing avalanche victims!) are known for their calm temperament and couch-potato lifestyle. Giant Mastiffs may also appreciate a more laid-back approach to exercise and high speed agility classes may not be their cup of tea (although there have been wonderful Mastiff breed athletes in many sporting competitions - but they tend to take things at a slightly slower pace!) and intensive exercise can actually predispose them to earlier onset of the degenerative joint diseases they are prone to. 

What Happens If My Dog Isn't Getting Enough Exercise?

A lack of exercise can have a negative impact on a dog's overall well-being. Insufficient physical activity can lead to a range of issues, including weight gain and obesity, which in turn has metabolic and biomechanical consequences. In dogs, overweight and obese body conditions result in an increase in risk of various health problems such as joint degeneration, urinary tract disorders, respiratory dysfunction, inflammatory conditions such as pancreatitis and chronic diseases. Pet dogs can be considered captive animals, as they lack the freedom to choose their daily activities and may have limited opportunities to appropriately express their natural behaviours. Thus, beyond the physical consequences, a lack of exercise can also result in pent-up energy, boredom and frustration, potentially leading to stereotypical behaviour such a barking, pacing and cage-walking, and/or destructive behaviors like inappropriate chewing and digging. Furthermore, dogs that don't receive adequate exercise may experience heightened stress and anxiety levels, impacting their mental health negatively. 
To ensure your canine companion remains happy and healthy, it's essential to address any exercise deficiencies and provide them with the physical and mental stimulation they need.

What If I Don't Have Enough Time to Exercise My Dog?

We understand that life can get busy! If you find yourself short on time, consider these strategies:

Short, Intense Sessions: High-intensity activities like fetch or tug-of-war can provide a quick energy release which may be appropriate for strong, healthy dogs. Short sessions may be easier to incorporate more frequently into your daily routine and also keep your dog satisfied.

Short, Easy Sessions: Fast-paced and explosive exercises may not be suitable for your dog, depending on their physical and mental needs. Even some laid back activity like scatter feeding outside, a snuffle mat if outdoors isn't suitable, or short training sessions (include some play rewards as well as treats) can be appropriate. Many dogs struggle to maintain focus for long periods of time, so short but frequent sessions can keep the activity engaging and rewarding.

Dog Walkers or Sitters: If you're away from the home for many consecutive hours and your dog needs a break, you may wish to work with a dog walker and/or sitter to spend time with your dog, engage with them and provide activity and stimulation. Even if you work from home, if you're unable to take breaks during the day, you may wish to have a dog walker come around for extra help. They can help to ensure your dog gets the exercise they need when you're not able to provide it.

Interactive Toys: Ditch the bowl! Puzzle toys or food-dispensing toys can challenge your dog mentally while they play, and while they are taking in some calories while doing so, they are also moving and engaging with their environment. Allocate a proportion of their daily food allowance to toys and games so they can enjoy 'working' for their food. 

Consult a Professional: If you're unsure how to meet your dog's exercise needs, consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist for guidance.
Just like you and I, every dog is an individual and their individual needs must be taken into consideration when evaluating their energy and exercise needs. If you aren't sure about what is best suited for your dogs, speak with your veterinarian for some guidance based on your dog's size, breed, age, health status and personality - they can point you in the right direction.

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